A MEDIOCRE Labor government led by a mediocrity in Annastacia Palaszczuk is getting a free ride in Queensland when it should be gasping for air; poor political tactics from an Opposition led by a serial loser with no prospect of winning urban votes will, without change, bring crushing defeat as soon as an election suits the Premier. If the LNP wants to reclaim office, it should put hard reality ahead of internal mischief and petty personal crusades.
I don’t like talking about Lawrence Springborg where leadership of Queensland’s political conservatives is concerned; I like him too much. But it would take a blinkered reading indeed of the situation north of the Tweed to suggest other than whichever way you cut it, Springborg is on track to notch up the dubious honour of a fourth election defeat in the space of six state elections.
Assuming he makes it as far as an election, that is.
I’m usually the last one to seize on opinion poll results three months after an election as a solid indicator of the result of the next, but Queensland’s political circumstances at present are anything but orthodox: and in this vein, Springborg is not a new leader but a recycled one, a three-time loser, and whilst calling him “tarnished” in the eyes of Queensland voters might be a little strongly put, it’s patently obvious they know him far too well to get excited at all about ever electing him as their Premier.
There are a couple of articles from the Courier Mail today that I want to share with readers — you can access them here and here — and whilst they detail polling results, the poll numbers really only set the backdrop to the situation into which the LNP has foolishly wandered.
Any new government — even a mediocre one, even one elected in minority only, and led by a mediocrity like Annastacia Palaszczuk — can reasonably expect a post-election honeymoon of sorts; almost four months after one of the unlikeliest state election outcomes in Queensland political history, the fact Labor isn’t a mile in front of the LNP is something of an indictment.
Yes, Labor fractionally heads the LNP on primary voting intent; yes, Labor has consolidated its two-party support at 52%, a sliver better than it achieved in January; and yes, Palaszczuk appears to be registering some considerable personal popularity despite her obvious personal limitations and notwithstanding the fact her own party planned to dump her if — as it expected — the LNP was re-elected at the start of the year.
But it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of a government that — aside from setting about repealing some of the measures legislated by the Newman government — has not only done very little indeed, being remarkably slow to get itself together, but which handled the Billy Gordon fracas appallingly, and whose only “achievement” to date seems to have been to generously resource its union buddies at significant public cost in a brazen and unforgivable act of payback for services rendered in helping Labor get across the line.
The simple truth is that the Palaszczuk government is everything the LNP warned about: a prisoner to militant and violent unions; bent on restoring Queensland to the state of disrepair in which Labor left it three years ago; beholden to a narrow agenda contrived to benefit the very few at the cost of the overwhelming majority of Queenslanders; and — taking into account its disinclination to get on with the job, at least where measures to improve living standards for ordinary people are concerned — it will, left unchecked, make Queensland a much less desirable place in which to live, invest, or to do business.
It might only be four months old, but the LNP should be riding roughshod all over Queensland Labor.
I think that had the LNP replaced beaten Premier Campbell Newman with someone suitable to lead a contemporary conservative party in modern Queensland (and we’ll come to that in a bit) Labor would be losing ground quickly, and the Palaszczuk government would look and sound like an embattled outfit scrapping just to stay in the game.
Instead, the LNP is slowly but unmistakably leaching support to a government that has mishandled everything it has touched so far — hospital waiting times, the Gordon affair — by itself so badly mishandling its role as an opposition as to make Labor, unbelievably, look competent.
For example, Springborg should have had no truck at all with Billy Gordon; unlike the “disputed” result in the Brisbane seat of Ferny Grove at the January election, Gordon’s regional electorate of Cook would have made a searing by-election test of Labor support, made tougher on Palaszczuk by the fact questions and allegations of domestic violence and financial impropriety were swirling around Gordon before and after his departure from the parliamentary ALP.
The LNP should have moved an expulsion motion against Gordon the first day state Parliament sat this year; instead, it found itself “accepting” Gordon’s vote to defeat two relatively minor moves by the ALP, and whilst I have little time for strategies predicated on “not accepting” the votes of disgraced MPs, the end result of the episode is that having unexpectedly found the means by which to land an early knockout blow against Labor, Springborg — whether on his own decision or on the advice of so-called “strategists” — squibbed it.
You have to take opportunities as they arise in politics, for they never come again; Springborg didn’t, and it’s hard to see where another opportunity to rattle the Labor cage (and perhaps force an early election) will come from.
Certainly, to listen to the LNP, you’d be hard-pressed to know just how cosily ensconced Labor’s thuggish union cronies are becoming in their taxpayer-funded largesse; were it not for the sterling efforts of the Courier Mail, it’s doubtful anyone would have the bottle to ensure Queenslanders are even aware of it.
These are telling pointers to the Springborg style: that method of leadership that over three previous terms of Parliament never transcended mediocrity itself, with its uncertain, unclear, ambiguous messages. Yes, the LNP expressed its outrage over Gordon; no, when the time to nail its colours to the mast arrived, it wouldn’t act decisively.
Is it any wonder the early pointers to the LNP’s fortunes show a gradual but definite slide toward the seemingly permanent acceptance of opposition that saw it lose five consecutive elections before 2012 — three of them under Springborg’s stewardship — and eight of the past ten state elections to boot.
And those polls from the Courier pass a damning indictment on Springborg’s feasibility as a leader, with the proportion of respondents approving or disapproving of his performance to date being almost identical, and with the “undecideds” (at about 20%) being low for anyone trying to pass himself off as a “new” leader. He’s nothing of the kind.
Part of the problem (and this is an old story) is that when it comes to voters in Queensland’s metropolitan and urban coastal corridors — which, in the absence of the notorious gerrymander, now decide who wins and loses elections in the Sunshine State — Springborg is utterly, utterly irrelevant, and not even a standout performance as Health minister under Newman was ever going to change this, nor transform Springborg (after losing three elections) into a viable, electable, alternative Premier of Queensland.
It might be cruel, unfair, discriminatory (where urban voters are concerned) or just plain wrong from the perspective of rural Queenslanders, but a cow cocky from the southern Darling Downs was never going to be embraced by the “city slickers” who outnumber his bush buddies; this assertion requires no testing, for Springborg suffered heavy defeats as leader of the then-Coalition in 2004 and 2006, and failed in 2009 to win what should, objectively, have been a lay-down misere for the new LNP against Anna Bligh.
Lawrence is an excellent fellow and as readers know, I once had a fair bit to do with him when I lived in Brisbane: I doubt he would remember me now, so numerous are the faces that pass through politicians’ lives, and we are talking the better part of 20 years ago, no less. But sometimes, to make the calls in this column that are in the best interests of my party, it is necessary to criticise it, and I just wonder whether Lawrence could save himself no end of future grief by cutting his losses now and leaving Parliament altogether.
He might become Premier on the floor of Parliament, but it’s not the same as winning an election, and I suspect he knows it.
Yet for all of this, in some respects Springborg is the least of the LNP’s worries.
Through machinations and intrigues, and thanks to past enterprises in plotting, scheming, and doing hatchet jobs on each other, the LNP has put itself in the position where it has virtually sabotaged the viability of every other potential LNP leader, of which I believe there are only two plausible prospects.
Former Treasurer Tim Nicholls has been persistently and ruthlessly nobbled because of his ties to disgraced former Senator, powerbroker, and Queensland state MP Santo Santoro; in Queensland conservative circles it’s a hanging offence to even speak to the “wrong” people, much less associate with them, and it seems Nicholls stands at risk of being permanently excluded from leading his party for the grand old sin of being a mate of Santoro’s.
It’s true Santoro failed to disclose various interests he held on the parliamentary pecuniary register whilst a Senator, which directly brought his career to an end; but he isn’t a criminal, and the Santoro group are far less driven by the wild, vicious hatreds and lifelong pursuit of ridiculous vendettas that motivate many of their factional opponents.
(I have known some on the non-Santoro side of the Queensland Liberals to set forth on explicitly stated crusades to “destroy” those who cross them, and by “destroy” I mean to seriously attempt to ruin their lives permanently, within politics and outside it, and this kind of mentality makes the frenzied pursuit of anyone so much as suspected of having spoken to Santoro rightly seem the more bizarre and ridiculous. It is also totally unforgivable).
I think Nicholls is the best man to lead the LNP; those who don’t like the fact he speaks to Santo should get over themselves. There are plenty of others in LNP, especially in the west of Brisbane, who make Santoro look like an innocent babe by comparison. Yet these people would prefer to lose elections than to permit the “enemies” within to enjoy a shred of political success. They should grow up. God knows, some of those standing in Nicholls’ way have been lurking around the Liberals in Brisbane for decades, and should know better than this.
But if we move on from Nicholls, the other obvious candidate is the man pushed out of the leadership to make way for Campbell Newman four years ago, Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek, in an act of treachery, bastardry and political stupidity for which the responsible parties have escaped consequence.
Langbroek, as the story goes, was shown to be politically brittle by the unexpected poll bounce experienced by Labor in the aftermath of the 2011 floods in Brisbane; an astute reading of the situation would have revealed this to have been a reflex response that would correct itself as the floods receded into the distance, and there was a ready precedent for this in Victoria in 2009 when deeply unpopular Labor Premier John Brumby experienced soaring “popularity” in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires, only to be turfed out of office on the receiving end of a big swing to the Liberal Party a little over 18 months later.
Most of the people I’ve spoken to agree Langbroek would have made a very solid — if unspectacular, or particularly showy — fist of the job of Premier; and that had it fallen his way, the LNP would have been elected by less than the landslide it won in 2012, but re-elected easily earlier this year.
The bottom line here is that Langbroek is untested as Premier whilst simultaneously representing damaged goods — and that damage, as it largely has been in Nicholls’ case, is entirely self-inflicted insofar as the LNP itself is concerned.
Thanks to the not-inconsiderable efforts of those who set out to crucify both of them — people who no doubt remain highly pleased with their handiwork — turning to either of these well suited leadership candidates is fraught with the political risks that come from elements within their own party having tried to destroy their careers.
And if we put Nicholls and Langbroek to one side, the only other remotely viable leadership candidates all come with severe — potentially fatal — drawbacks.
Everton MP Tim Mander and Mansfield MP Ian Walker are both extremely insecurely seated; in any case, both have just three years’ experience in Parliament, and the recent practice of elevating neophytes to frontline leadership roles has too often proven a disaster to be seriously considered by the LNP now.
Caloundra MP Mark McArdle comes with substance, but has a media profile that is about as inspirational to watch as bathroom mildew growing spores; he has also been around for a long time, and could no more be passed off as “new” by the LNP as it is trying fruitlessly to do now with Springborg.
Indooroopilly MP Scott Emerson is amiable enough, but — aside from reports that some of his more prominent branch members think he’s just great — I don’t know anyone who thinks he’s a serious candidate to lead the LNP, and much less to become Premier.
Kawana MP Jarrod Bleijie, by virtue of his performance in government, is probably no longer a starter to ever lead the LNP.
And despite whatever delusions to the contrary they might harbour, the less said about Currumbin MP Jann Stuckey and Maroochydore MP Fiona Simpson in the same breath as “leadership,” the better, and my only remark is that as an asset to Queensland’s conservative parties, the dowdy Miss Simpson isn’t a patch on her father, Gordon, an excellent fellow rightly remembered decades after his departure as a giant of conservative government in that state.
All of this leads to Springborg being the only man standing by default. In turn, it highlights just how badly the LNP has boxed itself into a corner as it attempts to regroup and take the fight up to a defective, reprehensible Labor government which might as well just hang the CFMEU flag over the parliamentary quadrangle, and abandon any pretence at governing for all Queenslanders.
The LNP has a Springborg problem: it can’t live with him and, thanks to the efforts of some of its own henchmen, it seems living without him simply isn’t an option.
If common sense and sanity are not permitted to trump the vicious, petty, nasty personal blood feuds that have seen them spend 21 of the past 26 years in opposition, Queensland’s conservatives are destined to spend a very long time in the political wilderness now.
Nobody can say they weren’t warned, but where the conservative parties in Queensland are concerned, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Labor is enjoying an easy ride through the early stages of its first term in office in Queensland and, unless something changes very drastically, that first term will by no means prove to be its last — minority government and living on a knife-edge notwithstanding.